The first day of the police strike in Rio de Janeiro wasn’t very unusual. Cariocas worked, went to the beach, crossed the city, and also got into the Carnival spirit, with some of the first blocos of the season parading in the streets. There was no violence. Of the 3,000 cops who patrol the nineteen pacified favelas of Rio, only 14 officers failed to show up, according to TV Globo— which also reported that 123 lifeguards stayed home, and that the civil (investigative) police worked as usual. A relatively small number of striking police officers were arrested. According to the mainstream media, the strike was felt more in the interior of the state, especially in Campos, hometown of former governor Anthony Garotinho.
It may well be that the crowd of some 3,000 boisterous men in Rio’s Cinelândia square last night, setting off firecrackers, chanting and punching the air with their fists– police and firemen who voted to strike– don’t fully represent Rio state’s public safety forces (70,000). Or that most of them feel the pressure from the arrests and threats coming from government officials. Even president Dilma Rousseff criticized the strikers, especially those in the state of Bahia.
There is a danger of strikes by public safety personnel spreading throughout the country, but the federal government says it’s prepared for the eventuality.
Whatever the real, personal or political motives of the strikers, they are truly angry.
In the 1960s, Brazil’s military put a lid on demands from the poor, with a coup that kept an authoritarian government in power until 1985. The return to democracy was gradual, with elites carefully managing the process. Though Lula carried on with old political and economic practices, his 2002-2010 government marked the return to center stage of those the long-repressed demands.
Managing them is no easy task, as Governor Sérgio Cabral and TV Globo are finding out. Large pay raises were given, but aren’t considered to be enough by angry security forces who are now feeling their muscle. A fireman was arrested for inciting the practice of crimes against military law, on the basis of a wiretapped phone conversation aired strategically on Globo Thursday night, and his colleagues want him freed. A gubernatorial election is coming up in a couple of years, and at least some of the action stems from preparation by ex-governor Anthony Garotinho, who’s sided with the strikers.
This time of economic growth and general euphoria in
Brazil and especially in Rio de Janeiro, with a growing scarcity of skilled and unskilled labor, is setting up a scenario in which many worker groups feel ever more correct in making demands. What remains to be seen is if Brazilian society, shaken at every level by socioconomic change, can digest these and other implications. Nowadays, not much happens gradually.
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What follows below is a translation of a very complete description of the situation, from Friday’s O Dia newspaper.
Rio – Firemen, and civil and military police began a general strike Thursday night. The decision was taken in an assembly in Cinelândia, in the center of Rio. According to the movement’s leadership, the strike has no end date. About 3,000 participated in the rally.
Movement leaders had sworn there would be a strike if any item on their list of demands was not met by the government. They demand the release of soldier Benevenuto Daciolo, arrested Wednesday night, transportation and meals support of R$ 350, a wage floor of R$ 3,500 a month and a forty-hour workweek.
Police will stay at precincts
Military police, including those off duty and on vacation, said that starting today they would stay in their precinct stations and only respond to emergencies, with 30% of the force at most. Fernando Bandeira, president of the civil police employees union, advised cariocas to stay home.
In the civil police, only the homicide division will fully function. The other units will respond only to emergencies, and do the paperwork necessary for removing bodies and for robberies.
“As long as the government doesn’t negotiate a career and salary plan, we will keep our arms crossed,” promised the president of the union of civil police, Carlos Gadelha.
As for the military police, the strategy is for everyone to go to all units to avoid the arrest of parts of the force. Last June, 437 firemen and two military police were detained after the invasion of fire department headquarters in Praça da República, downtown.
“If they arrest one, they’ll have to arrest everybody”, Wellington Machado, a leader from the 22nd military police precinct in Maré, told the crowd.
Federal troops at any moment, says Beltrame
Army troops, in the case of a strike, can be called up at any moment to guarantee the safety of residents and visiting tourists, according to State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame. On Thursday in Brasília, he said a plan has been ready since the 2007 Pan-American Games. “We have a protocol of actions built up since that year, and the focus is public interest and keeping the peace,” he underscored.
Security authorities met on Wednesday with top officials of the Eastern Military Command to agree on details of a possible request for help from federal troops. Earlier, Beltrame said he believed an agreement with public safety professionals would be forthcoming, appealing to the “common sense” of employees.
Legislature approves increase
Rio’s state legislature voted Thursday to approve, by sixty votes to one (two abstentions and one absent), a bill conceding a raise of 38,81% to 122,640 public servants in the safety area, to be completed by February 2013.
Governor Sérgio Cabral repeated on Thursday that he saw no possibility of a strike. He cited the increase given, saying it involves an impact of de US$ 1 billion equivalent on public coffers and said he trusts in the state’s institutions.
“Safety professionals know this isn’t the best method and they recognize that we are working on this and that there is still much to be done. If all those who came before me had done the same, the military police’s wage scale would be one of the best. But they did nothing before me,” the governor stated.
Fireman jailed in Bangu 1
Judge Ana Paula Figueiredo, from the auditing division of the military court, yesterday decreed the preventive arrest of fireman Benevenuto Daciolo. The request came from the internal affairs chief of the force, Edson Senra. In her decision, the judge stated that the fireman had traveled without authorization to Bahia and was caught by wiretaps speaking with strikers from the Bahian military police.
In one section of the audio, Daciolo claimed there would be no Carnival in Bahia, nor in Rio. The judge said his arrest was necessary to guarantee public order and military discipline. The soldier is accused of inciting others to practice military crimes.
Before the judicial order was given, the fireman, one of the leaders of the group, was arrested — up to then for administrative reasons for 72 hours — as he got off a plane at Tom Jobim International Airport, Wednesday night. He is in the Bangu 1 maximum security prison. “It’s just one more abitrary act,” he lamented to O DIA on being arrested.
The soldier explained that he was returning from Salvador, Bahia, where he’d participated in strike negotiations. “For reasons of public order, he went to Bangu 1”, said the State Civil Defense Secretary, Sérgio Simões. Last year, Daciolo took part in the invasion of the force’s headquarters.